KARS Park – The Gem
Have you ever heard of KARS Park? We visited for a “second time” in March of 2021 and thought we would share how much we enjoyed ourselves! We stumbled on this place in January 2020, but it quickly became one of our all-time favorite places to stay (Excluding National Parks). It has stunning waterfront sites along the Banana River. If you’re interested in the backstory of how we found it, you can read about it at the end of the article, but for now, we’ll get right to the good stuff.
The Kennedy Athletic, Recreation & Social (KARS) Parks
KARS Park is located on Merritt Island, Florida. It’s a recreation center, RV park, and Marina for the employees of NASA. It is open to active and retired NASA, Civil Service, and some Contractors assigned to Kennedy Space Center or Patrick Air Force Base. It has been recently made available to all active and retired Military ID cardholders as well. If you’re unsure of eligibility, check this site and call to see what proof you’ll need before arriving.
Here is where this place starts to shine!
It’s a prime viewing spot for rocket launches in the area! One of the best features about KARS Park is it’s just across the water from Kennedy Space Center. You’ll have a front-row seat to watch day-to-day operations at NASA, including launches. We saw one launch during our first trip in 2020 and two on our second visit in 2021. Viewing launches so close makes this park one of a kind for us!
Lots to do in the Area Near KARS Park
World Famous Cocoa Beach Pier
You won’t leave this place hungry or thirsty! There are five restaurants on the pier to choose from for whatever your libations desire. We enjoyed some appetizers and local brew at the Pelican Bar and Grill.
Ron Jon Surf Shop
Growing up in South FL, Ron Jon’s was always a stop if you were in the area. It’s amazing how the place has grown and has become an attraction. It’s a must-see if you’re in Cocoa Beach.
Kennedy Space Center
If you plan to visit the space center, I recommend visiting here early on in your stay. You’ll get an idea of operations and a geography lesson which will help you know what’s going on across the river when you see equipment moving around. In 2020 we made a day trip, and it’s totally worth it.
Night Biolumenice Kayaking Tour
We took this trip in March of 2021 and got to see a lot. It’s typically recommended for the best viewing between May-July (during the new moon). The wildlife is just incredible! Kayaking at night in the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge, seeing bioluminescent jellyfish and plankton reminded Caleb of the movie Avitar. Just remember to keep an eye out. You’re not necessarily at the top of the food chain at night in the FL swamp. 🙂
Some Facts to Know about KARS Park (2021)
- This park, like Patrick AFB, is a first-come, first-serve park. No reservations, but if you call, they’ll usually share with you what they know about who is leaving and when.
- Waterfront sites are limited to 14 days. Once you pull into a waterfront site, you can claim it for two weeks. If you want to stay longer, you’ll have to go into some of the other loop sites, but you can come back.
- The park is access controlled. During the day, a guard will check your pass when you come to the gate. After 10 PM, you’ll need a remote ($10 deposit) or have to wait for someone to open the gate for you.
- The park has 50, 30, and 20 Amp service and water at each site. No sewer at the sites at the time of this post. You’ll need to dump if you plan to stay long. You can also hire some folks who full time at the park for $20-$30 to pump and dump for you.
- A small camp store is open on the installation. Beer prices aren’t bad!
- You will see wildlife! Like gators and snakes, so watch where you step and your pets.
- As of March 2021, waterfront rates are $25 per night. You’ll also need an annual pass which will cost $20. They have non-waterfront sites, monthly and tent camping rates posted on their page.
Looking for a Map?
I couldn’t find an official map of KARS Park, but I found the next best thing. This post is a little dated, but the hand-drawn map is accurate. Note the waterfront sites.
They’ve been making a lot of improvements to the facilities over the past year. A new sewer system, stormwater drainage, waterfront launch viewing platforms, and electrical posts are currently being installed in various sections of the park.
They’re also installing several structures and platforms for picnicking at the campground and the marina.
Some of the info on the KARS Park websites is a little dated, but you can either call the park directly or check with the Facebook Group for specific questions.
KARS Park was really a gem find for us. Its waterfront views, location, and cost make this an exceptional place to take the Ohana. While it’s hard to time a perfect arrival, the park works with you the best they can to get you in. Once you’re in, enjoy those waterfront views!
In case you’re interested –
In January 2020, our RV travels took us to Cocoa Beach, FL. Our goal was to stay at the very popular Jetty Park and then move to Patrick AFB FamCamp for a few weeks. Jetty Park only had three days available all winter, and Patrick AFB FamCamp was pretty packed with seasonal RV’ers. The AFB works on a first-come-first-served basis, so we had no guarantees after our three days at Jetty Park. What to do?
I went to my favorite planning tool (RV Trip Wizard) and opened up all the search filters for campgrounds in the area. An icon popped up on the map with an American flag on (aka Military Campground) that I never heard of just across the bay called “KARS Park.” We jumped in the truck to go check it out. This is where it got AWESOME!!!
Upon arriving at what looked like a typical military Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) facility, we found an RV Park with stunning waterfront views on the Banana River just south of Cape Canaveral Launch Facility. We talked to the camp store manager, who confirmed availability for us in the park. We made the move over the following day and scored a waterfront site.
Fast forward to March of 2021. We caravanned back with our some of our RVing ohana and were able to snag two waterfront sites near one another. We enjoyed our second stay just as much as our first, so it was time to post about it.
This is where we also got our first flat tire!